There's good news for taxpayers and "smart riverfront" advocates relative to the Isle of Capri's (IOC) efforts to build an 11-story casino hotel and five-story parking ramp at the foot of Lock & Dam 15 in downtown Davenport. While some aldermen boasted groundbreaking by last fall, the two permits IOC must have to move forward are no where near completion, let alone approved - and current circumstances suggest that it is because pertinent data submitted by IOC relative to flooding is flawed. Major critics of the project claim that the project will significantly increase flooding on Davenport's commercial waterfront, jeopardizing surrounding properties and businesses.

Industry experts have raised questions of noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act; environmental impact; public safety; and riverfront access. The good news is that both federal and local regulators are thus far requiring IOC to address these concerns and answer more questions.

Isle of Capri has been pursuing this project for more than three years (much of that pursuit occurring in the bowels of City Hall) to obtain the permits. Last week's meeting at the Arsenal's Clock Tower between 10 federal, city, and IOC officials, as well as local engineer Bill Ashton, brings to bear several critical issues that could potentially derail the IOC's plans, perhaps indefinitely.

In attendance on March 1 at the Army Corps of Engineers offices were Greg Lundgren (Ryan Companies, general contractors), Michael J. Knott (Stanley Consultants, Inc.), two unnamed Stanley engineers, John Betker (Corps of Engineers), Bill Ashton (Ashton Engineering), and the following City of Davenport officials: Economic Development - Clayton Lloyd, Charles Heston, Wayne Willey; Public Works - Dee Bruemmer; Engineering - Pat McGrath.

The primary concern is the additional flooding that would occur if the hotel/parking ramp with protective floodwalls were built as currently configured. Ashton articulated this predictable outcome in a hydrology analysis that he presented in December 2005 to the city and to the Corps as part of its public-comment process. Other concerns include the 50-foot setback for public access, which doesn't actually exist as such according to schematics; the City of Davenport and Isle of Capri failing to submit documentation showing any and all alternative site comparative cost analysis that justified choosing the current location for the casino hotel project; and issues relating to ADA compliance beyond the "extreme loophole" pointed out by Ryan's representative to get around such compliance.

Isle of Capri plans to construct a 10-foot floodwall that would protect its facility from flooding. The wall would extend from its building across River Drive and north to Second Street, effectively blocking River Drive between Brady and Perry Street, which normally provides a secondary water-flow channel during flooding in downtown Davenport.

It is important to note that Bill Ashton has lived in Davenport most of his life, and has spent his career fighting floods along the Mississippi. He is well respected in his engineering field for his expertise in flood management. Additionally, he is oft hired by the City of Davenport to guide it in these precise matters, evidenced by a nearly identical study Ashton did for the city last fall relative to Centennial Park and flood mitigation. (Hargreaves & Associates had neglected flooding issues that required its park plans be significantly revised.)

During last week's meeting, those present were provided copies of the Isle of Capri's February 17, 2006, response to the city, which attempts to resolve Ashton's concerns about adverse additional flooding, especially for properties upstream of the project.

Stanley concludes, "The proposed project has negligible effect on the flow, velocities, or water surface elevation above the dam. The proposed project is not expected to have any significant impact on this flooding scenario. The HEC-RAS analysis completed for this project and included in the City of Davenport Floodplain Development Permit show there is negligible effect on the backwater."

Is it me, or does this conclusion seem absurd? Common sense dictates that if, during a flood, you put up walls between Brady and Perry streets, from the river to Second Street, the overflow water that would normally use River Drive to escape is now blocked; it will have a significant impact of flood levels upstream.

Ashton agrees. Furthermore, he intends to aggressively refute Stanley's conclusion, stating that "there are serious technical errors in their hydrology analysis." He explains that there are incorrect assumptions and applications of formulas throughout the study that need to be corrected before the city issues the floodplain construction permit required for this project. (For example, Stanley has not correctly accounted for the river's profile, which is sloped. They assume a flat profile.)

Meanwhile, Corps of Engineers official John Betker has shared with the Reader that he explained to both IOC and city officials at last Wednesday's meeting, "There may be additional flooding impacts that could occur during certain river stages, and Ashton should be provided the opportunity to evaluate Stanley's data. If the data shows additional flooding impacts could occur, then the parties to the Floodplain Development Permit need to determine who could be liable for any potential litigation." Betker stated that the Corps is waiting to see what action the city takes on the Floodplain Permit "before we make any decisions."

Ashton requested that he be provided an opportunity to formally respond to Stanley's February 17 hydrology analysis before any parties move forward. All attendees at the meeting agreed to wait for Ashton's response before proceeding. According to Betker, this level of diligence on the part of all parties is how the public process is supposed to work.

Once again, residents owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Bill Ashton and his staff for their persistent stewardship of our community. Without Ashton's perseverance and expertise, chances are very good that this project would actually break ground. There are no satisfactory words to express our great fortune, or profound appreciation for citizens such as Bill Ashton and company, who voluntarily dedicate themselves to the pursuit of truth simply because its the right thing to do.

The real gratitude, however, should come from the City of Davenport, the Goldsteins, and shareholders at Stanley Engineering, for preventing potentially formidable litigation because of said errors and misconceptions. Otherwise, all three entities would be exposed to exhaustive future liability should the project come to fruition and forecast damage occur to upstream properties and businesses during flooding.

Any potential future liability should be a deal-breaker. If Ashton is right, and most bets are on him, all the Errors & Omissions Insurance in the world won't shield these entities from the dire financial consequences arising from lawsuits for what would easily be considered arbitrary and capricious conduct against Davenport property owners and businesses, not to mention taxpayers who will ultimately foot these bills, as well.

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